For many enterprises, Microsoft's SharePoint is a great basic platform for collaboration and file sharing. But the software can't always do everything customers would like without getting an assist. In fact, according to a Forrester Research survey, some 65 percent of all SharePoint shops add functionality to the core software.
SharePoint extensions include code that's generated in-house, or with help from contractors and consultants or with specialized, purpose-built add-ons from a wide range of third-party vendors. (These are not the same as the SharePoint add-ons available in Microsoft's store.) It's the same kind of ecosystem that surrounds a myriad of large applications, from IBM's Lotus Notes to Oracle's databases and SAP's business suites.
SharePoint debuted in 2001 primarily as a portal platform for enterprises, and it powers many a corporate intranet. According to a January 2013 study of 651 enterprises by consultancy Prescient Digital Media, Microsoft "continues to dominate" the enterprise collaboration or intranet 2.0 market, with around half of the organizations reporting SharePoint use "in some shape or form," the study said.
"I like to say that SharePoint is a jack of all trades and the master of very few," says Toby Ward, Prescient president. "It has so much there. It's a mile wide, but it's not that deep."
That said, the new SharePoint 2013 is much more complete out of the box than earlier versions such as SharePoint 2010 and especially 2007, Ward says, with vastly improved collaboration and social media capabilities, as well as enhanced search and publishing features.
But even the 2013 version is "a starting point; you have to make it your own and you have to make it do what you want it do," Ward says. That's not a big surprise in enterprise IT, where many large applications have to be customized to meet the needs of demanding corporate customers.
In SharePoint's case, some of these added tasks include enhanced collaboration, enterprise search, analytics and business intelligence, social networking and document, asset, workflow and content management. (See sidebar, above.)
A study of 153 enterprise SharePoint users by Forrester Research in August 2012 found that 65 percent augmented their original deployments using third-party add-ons, according to analyst Rob Koplowitz. Of the 100 who were using third-party extensions, 43 percent said they had expected to bring in such help all along, while 40 percent said they brought them in because SharePoint didn't meet their initial expectations. Another 13 percent said expanding SharePoint wasn't part of the original plan, but they did it as their SharePoint strategies changed.
In the survey, workflow and administration were the most popular third-party add-ons.
"Microsoft invests in the areas in SharePoint that are used by the highest number of users," Koplowitz explains. "They've always left a lot of white space for third-party companies to fill a niche. It's very much a part of their strategy."